The Future of Sports Marketing Post-COVID-19

Like almost everything else, the world of professional sports has changed due to COVID-19. The NBA and NHL were forced to shorten and cancel their seasons. Major League Baseball just got underway with empty exhibition games. The NFL’s season is still up in the air. So, what does that mean from a marketing standpoint?


A major part of sports marketing has always been fan experience. In fact, gate revenues were expected to bring in $21 billion from games by 2022. Obviously, those numbers have changed due to COVID-19.


While things like merchandising, commercials, and watching sporting events online can be fun for fans, they aren’t the same. Additionally, bringing in new fans requires the ability for people to attend live events. So, what can the sports industry do to market leagues, games, and athletes during these uncertain times?

Embracing Technology in Sports Marketing

Sports marketers have had to call an audible when it comes to their strategies. Because people aren’t able to come to games in person, technology has stepped up to the plate. For example, the MLB has been streaming classic games on social media. This simple action takes one of the most beautiful things about baseball and brings it to the digital world. Sports are about interacting. Fans often feel like a community or family when they’re watching a game together.


One of the great things about watching games on social media? It gives people the chance to “converse” within the comment section. They can reminisce together. They can strike up friendly conversations. They can even “trash talk” as they might in-person. This effort by the MLB is a perfect example of shifting gears, embracing how tech and sports can go together.


Famous athletes are also embracing technology. Many are looking for new ways to connect with their fans. One of the most popular platforms for athletes is TikTok. The NBA has the largest presence on TikTok. But, players are also using it as a way to reach out and encourage people to stay safe. That includes Magic Johnson and Rudy Gobert. The NFL leaned heavily into TikTok for the draft, too, making the experience more personal for app users. This type of user-generated content is one of the top digital marketing trends to watch.

Understanding Your Target Audience

There isn’t just one type of sports fan. Rather, there are a few different types of a typical fan. People enjoy sports for different reasons. Now, thanks to COVID-19, some fans may have shifted those reasons. With that in mind, it’s important to understand your target audience. More importantly, you have to understand how they’re feeling.


Some people will want to continue to stay at home for quite some time. So, finding out how you can engage with that audience will help them to feel more comfortable. Some people may want to see changes in the way stadiums are filled. Others might view watching sports at home as a way to escape, especially during uncertain times.


How can those things be incorporated into a marketing campaign? Being as personal as possible with your efforts will help. One idea is to create a blog that speaks directly to the fans of a specific team. Or, create a customizable app that allows fans to receive notifications, chat with one another, and get up-to-date scores.


When you strive to appease every type of sports fan, they are the ones that will continue to drive every league forward. Understanding your target audience today might be different from understanding it at the beginning of the year. But, the fact is, this virus has changed almost everyone’s life in some way. Whether we get to a “new normal” or something resembling the past, no one will be completely the same.

Increasing Fan Engagement From a Digital Perspective

Sports have always been about fan engagement. While knowing your target audience is a start, it’s important to get as personal as possible. Generation Z already understands the importance of relationship marketing. That’s why so many student-athletes market themselves with:


  • Websites
  • Social media
  • Compelling content
  • Hype videos


From a professional perspective, once you understand who your audience is, you can learn what they want. Post COVID-19, people might think differently about what is important to them. One of the best ways for any sports marketing team to find that out is to ask. Create a questionnaire for sports fans. Or, study data and activity on social media. There, you can learn more about the “passion factor” of fans, and what they want to experience from the sports (and teams) they love.


You can also bring fans together by encouraging engagement. That can be done through contests, fan voting, or even simply asking a question on social media.


Now, more than ever, people want to feel connected to each other, and their favorite athletes/teams. From a marketing standpoint, that can actually make things very easy as you move forward. Don’t be afraid to strip down your efforts. Take away some of the hype and elitist feel that sports sometimes have. The more you create content that connects, the sooner sports will be back in action.